Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 | The move to bring a professional football field to National City gained further steam Tuesday when a port commissioner told his colleagues a Chargers stadium would fit on a 52-acre plot of bayside land and also with the port’s mission for maritime industries.

The statement paved the way for National City and the Chargers to begin talking specifics on how a massive mixed-use stadium development would be financed in the South Bay. It also came above the objections of the land’s current tenants, who said a football stadium wouldn’t be compatible with the shipping and rail companies that currently occupy the land that is adjacent to one of San Diego Bay’s two deep-water ports.

“I believe it is now up to the city of National City and the Chargers to ascertain if this is a viable project and can be financed,” said Port Commissioner Steven Cushman.

The commission asked Cushman, who oversees the port’s maritime division, to determine whether a stadium could be placed within the designated site, which sits in National City but is controlled by the port, without eliminating any jobs or disrupting the port’s “maritime mission.”

Officials with the team and National City said the decision had opened up a new stage in the city’s fledgling attempt to lure the Chargers south.

“It’s not a pipedream,” said Chris Zapata, National City’s city manager. “It could happen if we have all of our ducks in a row.”

Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani said the team will now begin working on two tracks: attracting the private financing to get the deal done financially and planning what the bayside stadium site would look like.

“Now’s the time for us and National City to get serious about this,” Fabiani said.

No formal action was taken by the commissioners, and Cushman didn’t release a formal study or report of his findings. He said he used aerial photos of the site to determine if a stadium would fit. An Oct. 6 memo disseminated at the meeting from port President and CEO Bruce B. Hollingsworth states that a stadium could be built on the parcel “from a space perspective.” It makes no mention of whether the stadium would interrupt maritime activities or cause job loss.

Officials said any future stadium financing plan would have to come back before the port board for final approval.

Cushman said many outstanding issues remain, including the shifting of existing port tenants.

“There are many challenges for this potential project, not the least of which are relocation of some tenants, an overall master plan for the whole area, freeway access on and off ramps and railroad alignments,” he said. “These issues were not addressed by us as this was not our charge.”

Hollingsworth wrote that a stadium plan would also face future challenges such as laws dealing with coastal development and its environmental impact.

The Chargers have long envisioned a two-part development program in which the team would use proceeds from residential and other development to foot the bill for a stadium that officials now say could cost as much as $600 million.

Its original plan called for constructing the stadium and related development all within the boundaries of the 166-acre Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley. That plan has been scuttled by political and financial questions, and the team can begin speaking with other cities outside of San Diego County regarding relocation come Jan. 1.

The team is hoping to employ a similar model as it moves forward with talks in National City and Chula Vista. In Chula Vista, the land in question is owned by a private developer, so most of those talks have been proceeding behind closed doors. The land owner, residential homebuilder HomeFed Corp., is said to be weighing whether the addition of a stadium would sufficiently enhance the value of its 3,000-acre holding in the Otay Ranch neighborhood and justify its investment in such a project.

The Chargers have said they need a major development partner to shoulder the costs and risks of what could be a $1 billion project.

The National City deal wouldn’t be as clean land-wise as those pictured for Qualcomm and Chula Vista, where all the development would take place on one chunk of land.

Only a stadium would likely be constructed on the 52-acre site in question. Officials would have to cobble together land parcels within National City, and likely throughout the county, to offer enough space to house the supporting development.

Zapata said the city has a site that’s “underutilized” that could be thrown into the deal, but he declined to discuss specifics.

A coalition of maritime industries dependent on the bayfront, including at least two companies with operations on the 52-acre site, continued to oppose the project, saying it isn’t compatible with the port’s maritime duties. They said the National City plot boasts only one of two deep water ports on San Diego Bay and also pointed out that BNSF Railway owns 20 acres of the 52-acre lot.

The remainder of the land is owned by the port, but falls inside National City’s boundaries.

“A sports stadium located next to maritime industry would interfere with maritime operations, dramatically increasing operating costs, even to the point of pushing these businesses, and the high paying jobs they provide, out of the region,” according to a letter to the port commissioners from Ed Plant. He is president of the Working Waterfront Group, a coalition of business and labor groups.

Fabiani said talks in National City are moving quicker than in Chula Vista, although officials have a phone conference scheduled for Wednesday and a meeting with HomeFed principals later in the month.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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